VOL. 132 | NO. 32 | Tuesday, February 14, 2017
TBI Did Not Influence Garrison Resignation
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis Area Transit Authority board knew MATA president Ron Garrison had been charged with patronizing a prostitute before Garrison’s resignation last month for “health reasons.”
Garrison was allowed to resign for that general reason even though the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation – the agency whose undercover human trafficking operation netted Garrison – never asked anyone to withhold word of the charge against Garrison.
Garrison’s formal resignation letter Jan. 26 said he was resigning for unspecified health reasons.
But Strickland and the MATA board knew that wasn’t the case.
“Mr. Garrison was allowed to resign,” said Gary Rosenfeld, the interim CEO of the transit authority, in a written response to questions from The Daily News. “His resignation was written by him and he added the ‘for health reasons.’ MATA was aware of the charges, but MATA did not know the status of the investigation and did not want to compromise what could have been an ongoing investigation.”
But no one at the TBI was worried about that, according to Josh DeVine, public information officer for the bureau.
“TBI did not notify MATA or the city of Memphis about the arrest of Ron Garrison,” DeVine said in a written statement. “We also didn’t ask for any kind of delay as to their statement.”
Meanwhile at City Hall, Strickland was told of the misdemeanor charge against Garrison the Wednesday evening he was charged – the day before the emergency meeting of the MATA board in his conference room to accept Garrison’s resignation, according to city communications chief Ursula Madden.
“It was still an ongoing operation,” she said. “How the MATA board decided to come to its conclusion – I imagine it had a lot to do with legalities.”
The MATA board accepted Garrison’s resignation for health reasons the day after he was charged – Jan. 26 – in an emergency meeting that was closed at first, then open to the public. Strickland was not at either meeting.
No one at the public meeting said anything during or after that Garrison’s departure was because of the misdemeanor charge. There was no discussion or debate in the public meeting.
The TBI went public less than 24 hours later on Jan. 27 with the largest human trafficking undercover investigation it has ever conducted, with Garrison’s name on the list of those arrested or charged.
And MATA issued a statement saying the misdemeanor charge “in no way diminishes the contributions of Mr. Garrison at MATA during his tenure over the last few years.”
“MATA and its board of commissioners wishes him well in his future endeavors.”
Later that same day, the transit authority issued a second statement adding: “While Mr. Garrison’s criminal charges will be resolved by the courts, MATA does not condone human trafficking or any other violation of the law.”
Garrison was not arrested. He was instead issued a misdemeanor citation.
The TBI, working with local law enforcement, posted ads on the Back Page website that included ads aimed at those seeking underage girls for sex. The initial contacts were followed by email and other communication between those responding to the ad and the TBI agents who were posing online as women and girls.
Garrison was charged for allegedly seeking sex with an adult for money, according to DeVine.